What is Dharma as per Vedic teachings

Dharma is to follow the laws of nature, and religion is a manmade set of beliefs.  Dharma binds people together, whereas religion may serve to divide people. The way religion is commonly practiced has been responsible for many wars.   Hindu dharma was originally called dharma only. Then it started to be called sanaatan dharma, which means “a religion which has been present since the inception of humanity and follows the laws of nature”.

There are 3 aspects/parts of the Dharma/religión.

These are:

  1. Belief in God-God which is common to all humans, other beings and the entire creation
  2. Rituals and ceremonies
  3. Ethics and morals

Out of these, the only difference in the practice of different people of faith is the rituals and ceremonies

Pillars of Hindu Dharma are

  1. Parmeshwar or belief in God,
  2. Prarthana or prayer,
  3. Punarjanma or rebirth,
  4. Purusharth or law of action
  5. Praanidaya or compassion and kindness for all living beings.


ManuSmriti defines Dharma and also goes in to the qualities of someone who practices Dharma.  Here are some of the shlokas from Manu Smriti

  1. धृतिः क्षमा दमो-अस्तेयं, शौचम् इन्द्रिय-निग्रहः ।

          धीः विद्या सत्यम् अक्रोधो दशकं धर्म-लक्षणम् ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 6.92॥

dhṛtiḥ kṣamā damo-Asteyaṁ śaucam Indriya-nigrahaḥ |

dhīḥ vidyā satyam Akrodho daśakaṁ dharma-lakṣaṇam ||manusmṛtiḥ 6.92||

Which means: patience, forgiveness, control over your mind, non-stealing, cleanliness of body, mind and soul, restrain on your senses, proper use of intellect, proper knowledge of God, soul and nature, honesty, and control over your anger.  This probably is the most perfect definition of religion or Dharma.  It is hard to believe that a sage who is advocating such high level of human conduct would try to divide the society.

Yet another perfect definition of Dharma has been given by Sage Manu in his teachings:

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियम् आत्मनः ।

एतत् चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 2.12॥

vedaḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyam Ātmanaḥ

Etat caturvidhaṁ prāhuḥ sākṣād dharmasya lakṣaṇam ||manusmṛtiḥ 2.12||

This shloka incorporates 4 principles, which if practiced constitutes dharma.

  1. Vēdaḥ: this means that the code of conduct, or Dharma, of a person be according to Vaidik (Vedic) teachings. Since these teachings remain unchanged regardless of person place or situation and are eternal, so is the case with teachings of Manusmṛti. Take an example of how Sage Manu intended to help humanity at a very grassroots level.

ब्राह्मे मुहूर्ते बुध्येत धर्म-अर्थौ च-अनुचिन्तयेत् ।

कायक्लेशान् च तन्मूलान् वेदतत्त्वार्थम् एव च ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 4.92॥

brāhme muhūrte budhyeta dharma-arthau ca-Anucintayet |

kāyakleśān ca tanmūlān vedatattvārtham Eva ca ||manusmṛtiḥ 4.92||

Manu ji says that if the rays of sun fall on a person who is sleeping, it is deleterious to his or her health. It has been well-established that waking up early is very good for physical and mental well-being of all of us.

  1. Smṛti: the second principle is that we should obey the teachings of Smṛti literature. The Vedas define and detail the overall code of conduct as it relates to humanity as a whole, whereas the Smṛti literature focuses primarily on the national level. It is however necessary that the citizens of a nation also follow the universal laws as well. If such a practice of human values is adhered to by all, there will be no wars and, therefore, no armies needed. The world would simply be a more harmonious place. It must be stated, however, that the local situation differs from country to country. Climate is one example and certain human behavior will be based on local conditions. Manusmṛti, while directing the overall social code of conduct, respects the given situation of a nation. It is clearly stated that no code of conduct of a person be contradictory to the constitution of their nation and be against their national interest.
  2. Sadācār: the conduct of good people be analyzed in-depth. Although the conduct of respected persons may be well-hearted, it should not come in the way of national progress, as well as should be in accordance with a given situation.
  3. Svasya Ca Priyaṁ Ātmanaḥ: A person should act according to his/her inner conscience especially in difficult situations. One should think first and then act righteously. This is the 4th and most important dogma of life. We should avoid actions that we would not wish upon ourselves. If everyone acts according to inner feelings based on the principle described above, a person’s life would be greatly improved, leading to better family, nation, and society. Manu has stated that people should live according to the highest state of righteousness.

आत्मनः प्रतिकूलानि परेषां न समाचरेत्।

Ātmanaḥ Pratikūlāni Parēṣāṁ Na Samācarēt।

This means that any act that brings fear, doubt and shame, cannot be, according to the desire of inner self.

Vedas are the root of whole practice of Dharma.

वेदो-अखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् ।

आचारः च-एव साधूनाम् आत्मनः तुष्टिः एव च ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 2.6॥

vedo-Akhilo dharmamūlaṁ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām |

Ācāraḥ ca-Eva sādhūnām Ātmanaḥ tuṣṭiḥ Eva ca ||manusmṛtiḥ 2.6||

Honest interaction defined:

सत्यं ब्रूयात् प्रियं ब्रूयात् न ब्रूयात् सत्यम् अप्रियम् ।

प्रियं च न-अनृतं ब्रूयाद् एष धर्मः सनातनः ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 4.138॥

satyaṁ brūyāt priyaṁ brūyāt na brūyāt satyam Apriyam |

priyaṁ ca na-Anṛtaṁ brūyād Eṣa dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ ||manusmṛtiḥ 4.138||

A person should speak the truth and do so pleasantly for the well-being of society and avoid what is untrue simply to please others. This is Santana Dharma, the Eternal Law. Also, there is another verse that states one should never embarrass another who has a physical disability or lack of knowledge, among other conditions.

Never destroy Dharma:

धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः ।

तस्माद् धर्मो न हन्तव्यो मा नो धर्मो हतो-अवधीत् ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 8.15॥

dharma Eva hato hanti dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ |

tasmād dharmo na hantavyo mā no dharmo hato-Avadhīt ||manusmṛtiḥ 8.15||

Dharma destroys anyone who seeks to destroy It and Dharma protects anyone who protects It. Therefore, Dharma must never be destroyed, since its destruction will result in our destruction.

Dharma is the only companion after death:

नामुत्र हि सहायार्थं पिता माता च तिष्ठतः ।

न पुत्रदारं न ज्ञातिः धर्मः तिष्ठति केवलः ॥ मनुस्मृतिः 4.239॥

nāmutra hi sahāyārthaṁ pitā mātā ca tiṣṭhataḥ |

na putradāraṁ na jñātiḥ dharmaḥ tiṣṭhati kevalaḥ ||manusmṛtiḥ 4.239||

After death(amutra), neither father, nor mother, nor spouse(dar), nor children, nor any other relative (gyaati)or a friend remains a companion. Dharma alone remains with us.

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